It's the end of September. My boyfriend and I are walking down Derrynane Beach in County Kerry when two things occur to us: 1) that we are completely alone; 2) that we are not going to see the ocean again in 2016. I roll up my jeans, waddle in and shriek with the cold. A wave laps above the hem of my jeans and the denim tightens around my leg. My jumper gets a splash of water on it and I know its going to take ages to dry.
I look around; there are no dog walkers.
I run back out, take off all of my clothes, stash them behind a rock and race back into the sea. Within seconds, Gavin has done the same thing. We swim for 20 glorious minutes, then race around the beach, totally starkers, to dry off. A couple appear at the edge of the beach, a few years older than us and mortified to have stumbled across us, naked as babies and kicking sand at each other. I dive under his coat, and whisper, "Are they gone?!" frantically, until he assures me that, yes, they are.
It's my happiest moment of 2016. It might even make my top five moments of all time. Giddy, naked, breathless under the icy Atlantic water and rewarded quickly afterwards with a pint of Guinness and a packet of Tayto. And grateful, so grateful, to be in a relationship with someone who also grew up in a Naked House.
Did you grow up in a Naked House? I did. I had the great fortune of having a mother who was pro-nudity, and the misfortune of having a father who was obsessed with recording everything. There are hours – days maybe – of footage of me and my brother wandering around naked. The back garden, the living room, the beach – if we were there, we were naked. We’re fighting naked; we’re being read to naked. We’re three, four, five, six years old and perpetually nude. Most people have a snapshot of them and their sibling laughing in the bath to contend with – my parents have more nude footage in the can than Terrence Malick has of long grass. They weren’t naked themselves, mind – just big celebrators of the wholesomeness of childhood nudity.
“But you were beautiful,” says Mum defensively, whenever we scream at our father to stop presenting our romantic partners with filmic evidence of our young genitals. “You were so free.”
There are pros and cons to all of this. Pro: this early comfort with nudity has made me profoundly comfortable in my own skin throughout my life. I don’t worry about my body or what it’s doing half as much as other women my own age, and I’m enormously glad of that fact. When clothes look bad on me, I am far more likely to blame the clothes than myself. Con: no one in my family knocks. Ever. Or, if they do, it’s that weird “courtesy knock” when someone taps lightly on the door and walks in anyway. Pro: I can talk about my body and what it’s doing. Con: I am very likely to announce to the whole office that I have thrush – and not everyone cares for thrush chat at 11am. Pro: my parents talked to me openly about sex as a teenager and I think that ultimately lead to a rich and fulfilling sex life. Con: I have seen my dad’s butt way, way too many times.
If I’m in a bikini, or in a tiny dress, I feel self-conscious. If I’m nude, I’m delighted with life. Who cares if the people in the opposite apartment can see? I don’t know them! Sure, it’s only a nipple!
Apparently, the big, cheery grin I had on my face the day Gavin and I turned a deserted public beach into a nudist one is to be expected – according to a study from Goldsmith’s University, people who engage in “naturalist” tendencies are far happier. This is the first study that examines whether taking off your clothes around non-intimate others actually makes you happier with your body. The study found that the longer and more frequently participants engaged in naturalism, the happier they were long-term. "It's a pretty cheap way to be happy," says Dr Keon West, senior lecturer in the psychology department. "In that, everyone can take their clothes off."
I want to state here I think there’s a big difference between being naked and being “almost naked”. It’s a funny paradox: if I’m in a bikini, or in a tiny dress, I feel self-conscious; if I’m nude, I’m delighted with life. Who cares if the people in the opposite apartment can see? I don’t know them! Sure, it’s only a nipple!
My friend Jen, who has been to a fair few nudist beaches in her time, agrees with me. “When a woman is naked, she’s just a woman. When she puts on a bikini, she becomes a product.” She becomes someone who is wearing something correctly or incorrectly. Someone who has to worry about stray hairs and side boob and weird material suddenly becoming transparent. When you’re naked, the lack of window dressing is freeing. “I’m just a dumb animal!” I felt like screaming on the beach that day. “I’m not a sex thing! I’m a dumb, stupid, fleshy animal!”
And that’s what growing up in a Naked House will do to you – it gives you a little bit of a sense of humour about things. Even if you do dive under a coat when the dog walkers come.